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2020-11-17 09:46:54   •   ID: 2203

Handaxes and Bifacial Cleavers from the Azraq Basin in Jordan

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In what is nowadays the state of Jordan, Lower Paleolithic cave stratigraphies are lacking, as Karstic cave sites in the Levant are mainly confined to the cost and its hilly flanks. In Jordan Evidence for the Acheulian was mainly found at derived surface scatters - sites with high contextual integrity are found only in the Azraq Basin (al-Nahar and Clark 2009).

Figure 1-6 shows a limited surface Collection from a Wadi in the Azraq Basin in Jordan’s Eastern Desert. Regarding techno-typological considerations it may be 130-350 k.a.old.

You see white patinated Flint Handaxes up to 16 cm long and a large Levallois flake (Figure 5 and 6). The Handaxes are made both by hard and soft hammer technique.

They are oval, with a tranchet blow (Figures 1 and 2), lanceolated (Figure 3) and cordiform (Figure 4). The Lanceolate is backed - not unknown from other Acheulian sites from the Levant -see 1596 .

The Handaxes in Figure 1 and 2 resemble Bifacial Cleavers - which define a facies of the late Acheulian in the Azraq region, as emphasized by L. Copeland. Microtraceological studies demonstrated their use as Butchering tools.

Such tools are techno-typological very different from Flake-Cleavers, made from large Flakes which appeared early early in the African Acheulian-see here: 1216 and here: 1217

Among the oldest sites with flake cleavers yet found in the Near East are Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY), at 0,78 My and Ubaydiyya at 1,4-1,2 My in the Jordan Valley.

Until recently, the Azraq Basin was a valuable staging area for migrating birds and served as an important water supply for local communities, as well as the main water source for the capital city, Amman.

After WW II it became clear that unsustainable groundwater extraction led to the almost complete desertification of the oasis, also affecting the integrity of potential in-situ Archaeological sites.

Although a program for the physical rehabilitation was started, it failed and much Archaeological information was lost for ever.

Overall the Azraq Basin is known for its abundance of Stone Age occupations, which were associated with the presence of oases, marshes and paleolakes. During the Pleistocene these habitats served as refugia both for large animals and Homo sp.

Acheulian sites were largely associated with lakeshore environments in areas with East African flora and fauna in grassland savannas over much of the Pleistocene.

The Azraq basin was certainly connected with other oases and former lacustrine basins in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Lakes and spring-fed marshes existed on the eastern landscape of Jordan, from Mudawwara to the al-Jafr and Azraq basins, and northward to the el- Kowm Basin of Syria. These networks constituted crossroads for movements of Homo sp. between Africa and the Eurasian landmass and vice versa.

In consequence the archaeological sites in the Azraq Basin are spanning a long timeframe from the Acheulian, (Jabrudian?), Hummalian, Levallois-Mousterian, Epipaleolithic (probably Kebaran or Geometric Kebaran) and the PPNB Neolithic phase - very similar to the El Kowm area in Syria.

Researchers working in Jordan traditionally described an Early, Middle and Late Acheulian. This classification is mostly based on surface findings and, as far as I am aware, has never explicitly explained. Especially the issue of a "Middle Acheulian" remains obscure.

In general the definition of older and younger ensembles is based on techno-typological considerations and on the material from the two sites in Israel, mentioned above. However, there is certainly some justification for the following classification, which separated an older from a more recent Acheulian:

  • Flat, thin, symmetric Handaxes are later than irregular, rough and trihedral handaxes

  • Early ensembles are often characterized by opportunistic cores, choppers and chopping tools

  • Handaxes, made by Hammer Techniques are earlier than Handaxes and the use of a Soft Hammer

  • The advent of the Levallois technique in Acheulian ensembles is late

In the Azraq area, the Acheulian have been recovered from two contexts: a) the wadis, which form a radial network of intermittent watercourses, and b) the spring sites, limited to the actual oasis (Copeland et al. 1989).

The "Desert Wadi Acheulean’ (DWA)" (Copeland 1989) is generally seen as a late Facies of this Technocomplex.

According to Copeland it bears well executed Handaxes with "late" characteristics, as described above in combination with a "Proto-Levalloisian", large blades and occasionally with"Upper Paleolithic" tools like some burins etc. It was tentatively dated by Geological stratification to MIS6.

The Spring sites in the Azraq Basin are numerous and bear, according to Copeland, the " Late Acheulean of the Azraq Facies".

Eight spring sites are now known to contain Acheulian artifacts and fauna (Lion Spring; C, D and E-Springs, Ain Soda, and Ain al’Beidha 1-3).

Lion Springs is the the most prominent locality, containing the “ largest Late Acheulean assemblage known from Jordan (>700 handaxes and cleavers; picks, choppers, chopping tools; small numbers of flakes, several kinds of cores, a few small Yabrudian like scrapers).

The bifaces exhibit about a dozen plans, with lanceolate, ovate and cordiform types the most common. A noteworthy aspect of the combined collection was a substantial number (12.3%) of cleavers; Rollefson’s excavation yielded considerably more of them (33.3%) than the Kirkbride and Harding collections (7.8%). Typologically, the pieces are well-shaped and finely retouched; these features and size metrics were the basis for Copeland’s definition of the Late Acheulean of the Azraq Facies.

During wetter intervals in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene, spring and surface discharge probably formed a lake, a conclusion borne out by the stratigraphy (lacustrine silts overlain by alluvial sands and gravels, a peat layer) in a grassland savanna with an African fauna. Pollen spectra are dominated by grasses, sagebrush, amaranth and chenopods, all non- arboreal species consistent with a dry grassland environment.

Low frequencies of oak, pine, and willow pollen were probably washed or blown into the lake from distant uplands. The site has not been dated radiometrically, but is believed to be about 200,000 years old, based on a TL date from one of the Ain al’Beidha sites.

As it is today, Lion’s Spring was an oasis throughout its long history, attracting animals and humans to water in a landscape where it was scarce or absent”
(al-Nahar and Clark 2009).

Suggested Reading:

Copeland, L. 1989a. Surface finds from ‘Site C’ and other Sheshan spring sites. In The Hammer on the Rock: Studies in the Early Palaeolithic of Azraq, Jordan (L. Copeland & F. Hours, eds.), pp. 305-314. Oxford, BAR International Series No. 540i.

Copeland, L. 1989b. Analysis of the palaeolithic artifacts from the sounding of A. Garrard at C-Spring, Azraq: 1985 season. In The Hammer on the Rock: Studies in the Early Palaeolithic of Azraq, Jordan (L. Copeland & F. Hours, eds.), pp. 325-390. Oxford, BAR International Series No. 540i.

Copeland, L. 1989c. The Harding collection of Acheulean artifacts from Lion Spring, Azraq: a quantitative and descriptive analysis. In The Hammer on the Rock: Studies in the Early Palaeolithic of Azraq, Jordan (L. Copeland & F. Hours, eds.), pp. 325- 390. Oxford, BAR International Series No. 540i

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